The man glanced furtively left, right, then left again before kicking his scuffed dufflebag foward on the tile floor, one step closer to the Customs counter. He feigned disinterest, affected a yawn, but couldn't hide the tic of anxiety that danced across his face.
Ceiling fans flailed lazily at buzzing flies above his head.
It wasn't the heat that coaxed a droplet of sweat from his hairline and to the end of his nose.
"Why am I doing this?" he thought. There was no way he could get through. Clearly his situation was hopeless, and he was doing nothing to improve it by standing in this endless line.
"Next!" barked a uniformed customs officer.
"Do you have anything to declare?"
Sheepishly, the man emptied his pockets -- a switchblade knife, pack of condoms, a half-smoked reefer. Already he had the officer's undivided attention.
Slowly the man reached behind his back and pulled out the semi-automatic pistol, gingerly placing it on the counter.
"Hey, I need some backup!" the officer shouted. Soon the man was jockeyed into a windowless, cinderblock room, spread-eagled against the wall.
They frisked him and inventoried -- a cellophane bag of cocaine, a rock of crack, a handful of diskettes containing child pornography.
Gingerly, as a man might handle an infant's overflowing diaper, the officers opened the duffle bag.
Plastic explosives, timers, duct tape. A disassembled automatic rifle. Nerve gas. Handcuffs. A blonde wig.
"I think we've seen enough," grunted a heavy-set guard, his gun leveled at the man.
The guard cocked his head toward a door. "In there. Now!"
Grimly, the man did as he was told, entering a cool, dark room with the sound of dripping water coming from what looked like an abandoned swimming pool.
"Strip!" the guard snarled. The man complied.
"In the water, now! I haven't got all day."
The water was chilly, but not unpleasant. Really not a bad place to die, the man thought.
Suddenly, strong arms grabbed him from both sides, throwing him backwards under the water. Immediately, he could feel the life draining from him. Really no point in struggling.
Then the hands that gripped him pulled him upward and, gasping, he was restored to the dim reaches of the room.
He heard the echoes of words fading around him, "... name of the Father, son and Holy Spirit."
The guard, no longer brandishing a gun, helped him out of the pool and handed him some clean, linen garments.
The man dressed quickly, then followed the guard back to the customs counter.
There was no sign of his bag or any other possessions.
The customs agent, now smiling, handed him a leather folder and bowed.
"Your passport, sir," he said. "Everything seems to be in order."
This Sunday, my wife and I experienced the joy of water baptism at our new church.
We had both been baptized as children -- sprinkled with water in a ceremony that held little meaning for us at that early age. But we were no longer comfortable having just a sprinking of Jesus. We wanted to be fully immersed, to leave nothing untouched.
It's still a symbolic gesture, in one way. But in another, it is a message in a language that God understands, saying, "I'm yours."
It can be your passport to freedom.
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